This posting will be short but continues on with our speechwriter at Washington Metro describing the speechwriter’s role and the speechwriter’s “place.” This discussion applies as well to “ghost” writers and collaborators of all kinds. Next week we will explore the sense of craft this speechwriter has developed.
Just how a speechwriter “made” policy led us to probe that question with the subject, who was of at least two minds. In a way, the speech writer makes policy by suggesting that expressing something in one way may be more convincing than saying it in another way—“creating the public line on whatever the stance is.” For that reason, the speech writer has to make sure the wording does not change policy. “The job of the speech writer is to articulate the same policy with the right words and then the negotiation occurs between the policy people and the speech writer about what are those right words.” This final delineation came after the subject said first the speech writer was a policy maker and then contradicted himself, clearly wrestling with the language to find the right words that would define the writer’s relationship with public policy.
The ideal of the speech writer as loyal, self-effacing, and collaborative was forcefully driven home about a year after this interview, within an article by former Bush speech writer Matthew Scully that appeared in the September, 2007 issue of The Atlantic. Scully skewered the self-promotion of his White House colleague Michael Gerson, who has traded in his renown as the author of some of Bush’s most memorable lines for a place as a Washington Post columnist. “Without fear of contradiction,” wrote Scully, “because it’s all in the presidential records—I can report here that Michael Gerson never wrote a single speech by himself for President Bush. From beginning to end, every notable speech, and a huge proportion of the rest, was written by a team of speechwriters, working in the same office and on the same computer. Few lines of note were written by Mike, and none at all come to mind from the post-9/11 addresses—not even ‘axis of evil.’”
Like our subject, Scully seemed particularly irritated by what he saw as a speechwriter’s usurpation of what is rightfully the property of the person who delivered the speech. A presidential speechwriter’s place is “off to the side, where even the best there ever was, Ted Sorensen, was always content to stay. Speechwriting is a job with many privileges, but also its own rules, temptations, and demands of conscience, obvious and nonnegotiable. The work has rewards enough without each speechwriter stepping forward to give his or her name its own permanent shine in history.”*
*Scully, Matthew. “Present at the Creation.” The Atlantic. September, 2007. 77-88.